Thursday, August 23, 2007

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

Posted by Bruce Miller

In response to a recent blog entry (Summer Stock Memories - Part II [Aug 19]), a curious reader commented as follows: “I don’t mean to be dumb, but what the heck is Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?” The question, of course, is not dumb at all.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is a game. I understand it’s now even a board game. I've never seen the board game, but the photo to the right and above, found on the internet, seems to indicate that a board game version does indeed exist.

For years it was a boardless trivia game, inspired by the career of the talented actor, Kevin Bacon, pictured to the left. It required no equipment other than a knowledge of and interest in theatre and film.

The game was originally inspired, I believe, by the brilliant John Guare play, Six Degrees of Separation, which was itself inspired by the interconnectedness theories espoused by the Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy in 1929, and the subsequent "small world" research conducted by Harvard-based American social psychologist, Stanley Milgram, in the late 60s and early 70s.

The basic idea is that everyone in the world is interconnected. If you are separated from your friend by one degree, then you are separated from your friend’s friends by two degrees. Milgram’s research suggests that when we extend this theory forward to six degrees, everyone in the world is connected to everyone else—and by a fairly short chain.

John Guare’s play is a funny, thought provoking and deeply moving examination of what this means when we look at our daily lives and social responsibilities. It’s one of my two or three favorite plays in the world. If The Little Dog Laughed works well on the 2007-2008 Signature Season at Barksdale Willow Lawn, expect to see Six Degrees of Separation appearing in a forthcoming seaon not too far down the road.

Anyway, back to Kevin Bacon. Inspired by these same theories, the game depends on the belief that every actor in the world can be connected to every other actor in the world by a chain of cast mates. The object of the game is to discover the closest connections in the shortest amount of time.

Let me give you an example: I recently mentioned Charlie Dacus, the child actor who just appeared in Bye Bye Birdie at Dogwood Dell. Can we link him to Sir Laurence Olivier, the “greatest English-speaking actor of the 20th Century”?

After about 5 minutes, here’s the chain I discovered. Charlie Dacus was in Theatre IV’s The Wizard of Oz with Jan Guarino (one degree). Jan Guarino was in Swift Creek’s Once Upon a Mattress with Phil Whiteway (two degrees). Phil Whiteway was in Theatre IV’s West Side Story with Blair Underwood (three degrees). Blair Underwood was in L A Law with Jill Eikenberry (four degrees). Jill Eikenberry was in Arthur with Sir John Gielgud (five degrees). Sir John was in Richard III with Sir Laurence Olivier (six degrees).
And yes, I have noticed that Kevin Bacon appears nowhere in the chain noted above. But he doesn’t have to, at least the way I’ve always played the game. The game is called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon simply because, as college kids were inventing and playing the game in the 90s, Kevin Bacon’s name kept coming up because he tends to have been in lots of movies with lots of diverse actors, including his wife Kyra Sedgwick. That's Kevin and Kyra in the photo to the right.

While at the University of Virginia, a grad student named Brett Tjaden created the Oracle of Bacon website and computer program to determine if Kevin Bacon was, in fact, the Center of the Hollywood Universe. Tjaden entered data for the 800,000 plus actors listed in the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) to see which actors had the closest connections to the largest number of other actors. He determined that whereas Kevin Bacon was in fact in the top 1% of all film actors in terms of his close connections to all other film actors, he was beat out by Rod Steiger (pictured to the left), Dennis Hopper and Donald Sutherland for the top three spots.

Some people play the game by giving each actor a Bacon Number. If you are Kevin Bacon himself, your Bacon Number is 0. If you have appeared in a cast with Kevin Bacon himself, your Bacon Number is 1. If you have appeared in a cast with someone who has a Bacon Number of 1, then your Bacon Number is 2.

Richmond All-Star Robyn O’Neill (pictured to the right with Pat Carroll) has a Bacon Number of 3. You can read her comment to my previous blog post (Summer Stock Memories – Part II [Aug 19]) to count the connections. The only Richmond actors who I know have a Bacon Number of 2 are John Glenn, Pat Carroll, Sam Wells and Kelly Scallion. John (pictured to the left in The Man Who Came to Dinner at Company of Fools) works in Idaho with Demi Moore, Pat was in E. R. with Noah Wyle, and Sam and Kelly were in Miss Rose White with Kyra Sedgwick. Demi and Noah were in A Few Good Men with Kevin, and Kyra is married to Kevin and appeared with him in Murder in the First. So, if you’re a Richmond actor and you’ve appeared with John, Pat, Sam or Kelly, you also have a Bacon Number of 3.

To a certain extent, my wife and daughter, set designer Terrie Powers and Hannah Miller, have you all beat. When Miss Rose White was filming in Richmond, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick and their child (children?) all lived in a rented home by Byrd Park. When Hannah was a baby, Terrie used to take her to the Byrd Park playground. One evening Terrie came home very excited, because she and Hannah had just spent the entire afternoon playing in a Byrd Park sandbox with Kevin Bacon and his son. Terrie was a huge Kevin Bacon fan, but just like I had done years before with Arthur Miller, she never let on that she knew who he was. So they sat there for a couple hours playing and talking as two parents. If she’d done the “fan thing,” he probably would have left.
All reports are that Mr. Bacon himself is not particularly into the celebrity game. When interviewed about the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, he good-heartedly replied, "I felt as if I was the brunt of some massive joke at my expense: 'Can you believe this loser can be connected to Marlon Brando and Katharine Hepburn?'"

A "loser" he certainly is not.

On a final note, if you’re a fan of The Closer starring Kyra Sedgwick (and if you aren’t, you should be), you’ll know that Kyra’s dad is now being played by Barry Corbin (pictured below and to the right), who was with us here in Richmond as a special guest star last October for Virginia Arts & Letters Live at the Empire. So if you performed in that iteration of VALL, your Bacon Number is now a 3.

All those who want to accept the challenge of discovering the other Richmond actors with Bacon Numbers of 2—I know there must be some—please do so in a comment to this blog.

--Bruce Miller

16 comments:

mmmhawke said...

Summer 1979 - I had been in NYC for about three years. Stanley Sobel who was the casting director at Search for Tomorrow had gotten me seen by the producers several times. Mr. Sobel championed me (I think) because he too was a VCU graduate. For this particular part the producers decided to screen test three guys: Bill Randolph, Kevin Bacon, and yours truly. The day of the test, we sat on the floor in a hallway at CBS at 57th and 10th Avenue cueing each other. Then we were comped lunch in the commissary before they taped us. I was in awe of these guys as they both had already been in feature films. I remember talking about Stephen Furst who had graduated VCU the same time as I did, and had worked with Kevin on Animal House. Anyway, Kevin got the part.

Several years later, I saw Kevin and Syra at a "Korean green grocer" on like 75th and Broadway one night. He told me I looked familiar, I reminded him we had done this test together, and he introduced me to his wife. Never saw him again, but I thought he was a totally down-to-earth kinda guy. I guess that's a "2".

Jessica said...

I was in "Brighton Beach Memoirs" with Joe Inscoe at Barksdale at the Tavern in 1986. Joe was in "From the Earth to the Moon" with Elizabeth Perkins who was in "He Said She Said" with Kevin Bacon. Which makes me a 3. :)

(I actually brought that board game to our staff Christmas party 2 years ago as a white elephant gift. I had to be rid of it rather than have to see one more time that everyone I know is far better at it than I will ever be. John G. scooped it up.)

Philip said...

Actually if you performed with Barry last October your number may be a 2 because Kevin directed the first episode of The Closer that Barry was in.

Anonymous said...

When you go to Amazon.com and read the third review for the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon book--I think it accompanies the board game--the review reads as follows:

"January 6, 2004
By SGECKO67 (Richmond Va)

OK, I was in the first dinner theatre production of "A Chorus Line" with Joe Inscoe who was in "From the Earth to the Moon" with Elizabeth Perkins who was in "He said She said" with Kevin Bacon."

I wonder who SGECKO67 is, and where was the "first dinner theatre production of 'A Chorus Line' with Joe Inscoe?? Was that the Mill production? Did Joe play Zack?

Bruce Miller said...

Well Michael, you have now made me a 2 too. I was in Once Upon a Mattress at the Mill with Steven Furst--I played Dauntless and he played my dad the King--and shortly thereafter he was in Animal House with KB himself. Jan Guarino, Phil Whiteway, Richard Blankenship, Al Flannagan, Lynn Keeton, Tom Width and others were in it too. Good times.

Anonymous said...

I'm so lost. can I just take a 6?

hoosmarkp said...

I guess I would also be a 2. The cast of the last production I was in at UVa, "Much Ado...", included Sean Patrick Thomas who was in the movie "Picture Perfect" with KB. The movie also starred Jennifer Aniston and Jay Mohr.

Interestingly, that production of "Much Ado..." also featured Tina Fey, but she has not worked directly with KB except for some awards shows on which they have both presented.

I guess Kevin Bacon is pretty close to the center of the universe :)

Scott Wichmann said...

I was working at FAO Schwartz and Kevin came in to the 'Koosh' section where I was working and we played 'Koss' basketball for like five minutes. He made like 12 out of fifteen shots. He's good. I guess that's like a one-degree of Kevin bacon thing, but professionally, I'll have to work out my 'Bacon Number.'

Anonymous said...

How can you possibly have connected Charlie Dacus to Laurence Olivier in 5 MINUTES!! It took me more than 5 minutes just to understand the connection. I bet you worked on that one throughout all of a sleepless night.

Bruce Miller said...

You're giving me more credit than I deserve. Once you get used to the thought process, it goes quicker than you think.

Starting with Olivier, I tried to think of how to connect him with contemporary American actors. So I tried to think of other great British actors of a certain age who've been in some popular films. I immediately thought of Gielgud, cause "Arthur" is one of my favorite movies.

Then I Googled "Olivier Gielgud" just to make sure they'd worked together (I know, that's cheating)and that's when I discovered they co-starred in "Richard III."

Then I tried to link someone in "Arthur" to someone from Richmond. Dudley Moore - nope. Liza Minelli - couldn't do it. But Jill Eikenberry...I remembered right away that she'd been in L. A. Law with Blair.

After that it was a snap.

Robinitaface said...

If you'll read the book that explains the game, the final connection HAS to be Kevin Bacon. I, sadly, have read the book. Those crazy college guys always end the chain with Kevin Bacon as the final degree, and within 6 degrees. Hence, "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon"

For Example:

"SONNY BONO:

was in Airplane II with William Shatner...(1)
who was in Star Trek II with Kirstie Alley...(2)
who was in Look Who's Talking Too with John Travolta...(3)
Who was in Boris and Natasha with John Candy...(4)
who was in Planes, Trains, & Automobiles with...Kevin Bacon(5)"

(they actually go from there to get Kevin bacon back to Cher in less than 6 degrees, it's quite frightening)

So, as much as I heart Charlie Dacus, you still have one extra degree to get to actually get to Kevin Bacon.

Anonymous said...

All right, how about Charlie Dacus to Jan Guarino in Wizard (one degree), Jan to Steve Furst in Mattress (two degrees), and Steve to Kevin Bacon in Animal House (three degrees). A Bacon Number of 3! Not bad, Charlie, for a little kid.

Robinitaface said...

Nicely done.

Anonymous said...

Kevin Bacon has also started another great organization called six degrees (www.sixdegrees.org) affiliated with the charity funnel Network for good. It is an amazing venture where you can raise money for organizations close to your heart or the heart of your favorite celebrity. Talk about walking the walk, Kevin Bacon has taken a kitchy pop culture idea with him in the center and created something that might be able to change the world.

Andrew Hamm said...

When Karen and I lived in New York, I applied for a job at a LensCrafters in in Upper West Side. When I arrived for my interview, there at the counter was Kevin bacon. Karen sat and chatted with him for a few minutes while I went back with the lab manager, Andrew Sussman.

"Hey," I muttered. "That's Kevin Bacon."

"Yeah," Andrew S. replied. "He's in here all the time. he's always losing his glasses."

I made glasses for Kevin Bacon (as well as Peter Jennings and Garrison Keillor). Does that make me a 1?

Bruce Miller said...

You're always #1 Andrew. That Bacon boy gets around, doesn't he? You're the fourth Richmonder to have had a close encounter of the first kind. In each instance, Mr. Bacon appears to have been the good guy we imagine him to be. That's saying a lot.